Windows 8 : Monitoring, optimizing, and troubleshooting system health and performance (part 4) - Configuring and analyzing event logs

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3. Configuring and analyzing event logs

The operating system and many applications use the event log in Windows to record various activities. The event log is a busy place; it’s not uncommon to see hundreds or thousands of new entries written to the various Windows event logs, depending on what is happening with the computer.

Events in Windows 8 are catalogued and configured by Event Viewer. You can open it by using either of the following methods:

  • Power Users menu Open the Power Users menu (press and hold or right-click the lower-left corner of the screen) and choose Event Viewer.

  • Start screen The Event Viewer is part of the Windows administrative tools. Open the Start screen and either select or search for Event Viewer.

Event Viewer is shown in Figure 10.

The Windows 8 Event Viewer window

Figure 10. The Windows 8 Event Viewer window

The Event Viewer window is divided into a number of discrete panes. The leftmost pane provides the primary navigation for Event Viewer. From here, you can choose which event logs you want to view or configure.

After you select the event log you want to view, the related events are displayed in the middle pane. When you select an event in the list of events, the details for that event appear below the list.

The rightmost pane is the Actions pane, which lists all the actions that you can take with regard to the selected event log and specific event. You have a number of options within each of the event logs.

First, event logs can fill up. Each log is preconfigured with a limit. By default, when that limit is reached, Windows starts to overwrite the oldest log entries with newer ones. If you want to change this behavior, complete the following steps:

  1. Open Event Viewer.

  2. Select the event log you’d like to reconfigure. Each event log is configured separately.

  3. From the Actions pane, tap or click Properties to open the Log Properties page, as shown in Figure 11.

    The Log Properties page of the System log file

    Figure 11. The Log Properties page of the System log file

  4. Choose the behavior you want for how full log files should be handled:

    • Overwrite Events As Needed (Oldest Events First) This is the default behavior.

    • Archive The Log When Full, Do Not Overwrite Events Save the log file when it fills up so that older items are preserved.

    • Do Not Overwrite Events (Clear Logs Manually) This option requires constant administrator intervention. Log files must be cleared manually before new events can be written to a full log.

  5. Tap or click the OK button.

If a log fills up or you just want to clear the log’s contents, tap or click the Clear Log button on the log’s Properties page.

You can also increase the amount of disk space dedicated to the log file by adjusting the Maximum Log Size (KB) field shown in Figure 11.

Filtering events

Suppose a user contacts you with a complaint about a program she needs that won’t operate, but the last time she tried to run it was a couple of days ago. Since that time, Windows has probably written hundreds of new entries to the event log. You can filter the event log based on a number of factors.

To filter an event log, open Event Viewer, select the log, and then tap or click Filter Current Log in the Actions pane. This opens a screen (Figure 12) from which you can filter the current log.

To filter by date, click the down arrow in the Logged field. You can choose from a number of predefined time ranges, or you can choose a specific time range. After you do so, only events from your selected range are displayed.

Filtering an event log to narrow down the amount of information you see

Figure 12. Filtering an event log to narrow down the amount of information you see

After you’ve decided what you want to view, you must interpret what you’re looking at. Every log entry includes several kinds of information, including:

  • Level The severity of the item.

    • Critical These are the most severe kinds of items written to the event log, and they require attention. For example, if your system fails for what appears to be no reason, a critical error will be written to the event log. Although that alone won’t fix the situation, it aids you in your troubleshooting efforts because you might be able to identify a pattern of behavior that helps you determine the cause of the problem.

    • Error An error isn’t as severe as a critical event, but it still requires attention. An error can be the result of a program not loading properly at startup, for example. Errors can create system stability issues if ignored.

    • Warning A warning is written to the event log when the system thinks that an administrator needs to know about a particular situation. In most cases, warnings don’t result in system stability issues, but they might require attention at some point.

    • Information In general, informational events are just that—informational. They are written to the event log just to inform you that something took place, but they are rarely associated with an error.

    • Audit Failure You see this in the security log; it indicates a sign-in failure.

    • Audit Success You also see this in the security log; it indicates a sign-in success.

  • Date and Time The date and time that Windows experienced the issue that resulted in the log entry.

  • Source The source of the event log entry. This could be the name of a program component, a full program, or some component of the system.

  • Event ID Every event has an event ID. Sometimes you can use this to help identify the event and find solutions.

  • Task Category This field is used primarily by the Security log. It identifies the kind of task that was taking place, such as sign-in, sign-out, and so on.

Saving events to an archive

Some events call for an administrator to archive system log files immediately for analysis. For example, if your organization suffers a security breach, you might be asked to salvage log files from one or more Windows 8–based computers so that they can undergo forensic analysis to determine the source of the breach.

To save the full contents of a log file to a separate location, complete the following steps:

  1. Open the Event Viewer.

  2. Select the event log that you need to archive.

  3. From the Actions pane, tap or click Save All Events As.

  4. When prompted, provide a location at which the log file should be saved.

  5. Tap or click the Save button.

  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Common GPO Troubleshooting Tools (part 3) - GPResult, GPOTool
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Common GPO Troubleshooting Tools (part 2) - GPMC
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Common GPO Troubleshooting Tools (part 1) - GPLogView
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Using Event Logging for Troubleshooting (part 4) - Summary of Group Policy Event IDs
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Using Event Logging for Troubleshooting (part 3) - Divide the Custom View of the Log into Three Phases
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Using Event Logging for Troubleshooting (part 2)
  •  Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista : Using Event Logging for Troubleshooting (part 1) - Group Policy Operational Log
  •  Windows 8 : Managing Windows Update (part 4) - Viewing update history, Rolling back updates
  •  Windows 8 : Managing Windows Update (part 3) - Managing Windows Update in Windows 8 native interface
  •  Windows 8 : Managing Windows Update (part 2) - Configuring update settings
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